Wheeler hits 97 out of the chute, works in a new pitch, hates new pitch clock


CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Zack Wheeler's first fastball of the spring? How about 97 mph.

Baseball fans know most spring training results are meaningless, especially this early in camp, but that sort of velocity reading is not. It's a promising sign for the Phillies after Wheeler dealt with arm fatigue late in their playoff run, which ended on November 5, more than a month after the regular season.

Wheeler led the majors in innings pitched in 2021 with 213⅓. He missed six starts late last season but then made six in the playoffs, combining for 188⅔ innings. Like Aaron Nola, he's carried a heavy workload not just the last two seasons but the last five.

Wheeler hit 97 twice in the first inning Tuesday and sat 94-95 in the second. He joked that he didn't hit 97 last year until May. He had an unusual start to last season. Beyond coming off the league-leading innings total, he dealt with an illness early in camp that set him back in spring training. 

His 2023 Grapefruit League debut was nice and easy: two innings, no baserunners, two swinging strikeouts, 19 pitches, 15 strikes.

"I knew the velo was there during BPs, I knew it might tick up a little bit during the games," Wheeler said.

"Came out of it healthy, that's the biggest thing, that's a plus. Felt good, felt strong, everything was working. Started off better than other springs."

Wheeler has added a new pitch, a slower, slurvy type of slider. He threw seven sliders Tuesday and the range was wide: 85 mph, 92, 89, 92, 86, 91 and 84. 

"Just something else to throw in, just mixing that in here and there," he said. "I try to bring something new to the table every year, whether it's throwing a pitch in a different location, this year it's a new pitch. It's gonna be a different look this year but that's a good thing."

While the new wrinkle in his repertoire could help disrupt a hitter's timing, Wheeler isn't a fan of MLB's new pitch clock or the gamesmanship that could soon be associated with it. Max Scherzer spoke over the weekend about how much power it gives the pitcher to dictate pace. Phillies utilityman Josh Harrison mentioned that he's already dealt with pitchers holding the ball an extra second or two multiple times, which affects a hitter's setup.

"I think it just messes with the game too much," Wheeler said outside the Phillies' clubhouse at BayCare Ballpark. "I think maybe there can be a pitch clock but not so quick. It could stop the really long guys who drag the game, but when you're rushing guys that normally aren't slow, I think it messes with the game too much. 

"It's people making decisions that -- I don't want to get too far into it, I should stop right there."

Wheeler said he felt rushed on the mound Tuesday. 

"Imagine a pitch clock when you're trying to make the most important pitches in the playoffs, having something count down on you like this," he said. "In Triple A, in the minor leagues, they're playing for stuff but they aren't playing for what we're playing for up here. It just adds something to it that isn't part of the game."

He's also not a fan of the quick-pitch ability it gives a pitcher, even though it's something that should specifically help the man on the mound.

"I know certain guys are going to use it to their advantage but I really don't like to do that, the gamesmanship of it," he said. "A guy steps in the box, they're expected to be ready to hit and we can throw a pitch right then and there. I don't think that should be part of it. We can do it, and maybe I'll do it eventually in a big situation, but I don't think that should be part of it."

Wheeler followed Aaron Nola, who started Monday. On Wednesday, it’s top prospect Andrew Painter on the road against the Twins. Bailey Falter starts Thursday and Taijuan Walker Friday.

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